37. We need a place of contact, thighs, sinuous, the line drawn from heel to neck, arching into inquiry. Touching paper leaves indentions we construe as now, as: urgent. What arises in the writing unravels at emergence, dissolves at first touch.
37.1 Bodies behave likewise, inured to the monolith of movement.
37.3 This is also a vanishing point, defying itself when reached, lines that irradiate without hope of convergence.
37.5 The hold that slips.
In 2008, JH Phrydas wrote a story about how bodies talk without words. He wanted the story to not just describe the silent ritual of nonverbal communication but to perform it. The interaction would be visceral – the exchange melancholic, yet full of lust. He wanted words to retain the unsayable: the subtle movements of a body in heat. In the years since, Phrydas kept rewriting this story, using different techniques, different syntaxes and forms, in hopes that he would find a successful method of gestural writing.
Imperial Physique is a collection of these attempts. They explore the way our bodies hover between animal and human, civil and wild. The bleakness – and underlying verve – of imagining Western empires in decline serve as a backdrop for a lone figure searching city streets, decaying architecture, and sand dunes for some type of physical connection. What arises is the loss of – and longing for – touch at the edges of imperialism, historical violence, and personal shame.
Paired with these stories are essays on queer embodiment, figuration, and plasticity that emerged through conversations with somatic psychologists, art therapists, and poets. They give context to the short stories and offer other ways to engage with the book: through thinking of language as texture, as sculpture, as a physical yearning against empire. The place where language and the body merge.
In this astonishing book, JH Phrydas examines how to write the things we cannot—”look away.” Look away from would be the correct English “parse.” But this is not English. This is touch—”textural” instead of “textual”—as when he asks:
Can writing open up a space of agency: re-territorializing both the soil and our bodies? Walking through a white space, signposts, paths—when the space blanks out, what happens to the figure, the body, the citizen housed inside? Bared, we continue, shifting at each break.
The “entrancement” and “vulnerability of the witness” is experienced fully and brilliantly through this work at the endocrinal and tactile limits of the body, but also through what is not the body. Here arises the biopolitical potential of his work, of how the vibrations – cross-exchanges of the deepest kind – work to transform not only sites and materials, but a politics of these materials as well. In these pages “every body radiates,” and language excretes its light for (or, because of) figures typically excluded from experimental works. How does one write the body that, in a culture, is so swiftly – broadly – decimated or erased? Tension between “confinement” and “escape” play off notions of passivity, of the human-animal, of what it means to scan and select – to choose in ways that allow concepts themselves to orient to each other to create a carnality of encounter: in turn. Through modes of desire and longing for touch, through the “dawning horror” of a particular architecture (the country in which he writes) — a space where, à la Marguerite Duras, but also Melissa Buzzeo, one must “refuse life”—Phrydas complicates and elaborates questions of sexuality, gender, and political/communal living.
— Bhanu Kapil
JH Phrydas is a writer and queer preservationist. Raised by his birth family in Atlanta and queer family in the Bay Area, he studied writing, somatic psychology, and ceramics under the mentorship of Bhanu Kapil. His first book of poetry, Levitations, was published by Timeless, Infinite Light (2015), and a chapbook of excerpts from Imperial Physique was published by Essay Press (2017). Phrydas is currently researching and writing a biography of drag performer and fashion designer Mr. David Glamamore — a living icon — by weaving together oral histories of a hundred queer and trans performers and artists. Phrydas lives in LA with his partner, visual artist and DJ Stanley Frank. ORCID ID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1695-2255